Ariadne’s Thread and Penelope’s Loom at Herakleion Archaeological Museum
The Herakleion Archaeological Museum, the largest museum of Minoan civilisation in Greece and, indeed, the world, not only showcases the various aspects of Minoan life and art but also holds a prominent position in the international history of weaving. Minoan textiles present amazingly complex decoration, with geometrical shapes and motifs mainly drawn from the natural world. The equally complex and elegant Minoan garments are known to us from a range of sources. The most important of these are the human figures in the famous Knossos frescoes, which are largely dated to the Neopalatial period and depict processions and detailed cult scenes.
There we see elaborate clothing of exceptional artistry, including kilts, skirts and robes. Special mention must be made of the Sacral Knot, a wide band tied in a knot and worn at the back of the neck. The colour palette exploits the contrast between the sewn-on bands and the multicoloured or plain body of the garment. Seals and sealings are another rich source of information on Minoan dress, portraying a wide variety of elaborate religious and other costumes. There is also evidence of rituals in which votive garments are ceremonially carried and hung on rods to be dedicated to the deity.
In the Herakleion Archaeological Museum are preserved the traces of two important arts: spinning yarn with a spindle, of which only the spindle-whorls remain, and weaving on the upright warp-weighted loom, evidenced by loomweights.
A reconstruction of the warp-weighted loom is exhibited here.
Building the loom was a major effort involving a carpenter, an archaeologist and a skilled weaver, over the course of many hours and a series of experimental tests, to ensure that the loom operated according to the ancient method. Minoan textiles with distinctive motifs were also woven for the exhibition, using yarns produced in the ancient way and displayed next to the loom. The loomweights on the ends of the warp threads are copies of ancient ones.
The Herakelion Archaeological Museum also contains another category of find connected with textile production. These are the Linear B tablets recording information on the production, types and trade of woven materials, which played an important part in the development of the Minoan civilisation.